United States District Court, E.D. California
DEBORAH BARNES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
social security action was submitted to the court without
oral argument for ruling on plaintiff's motion for
summary judgment and defendant's cross-motion for summary
judgment.Plaintiff's motion argues that the
Administrative Law Judge's treatment of the medical
opinion evidence, subjective testimony, and step five
conclusion were erroneous.
reasons explained below, plaintiff's motion is granted,
the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) is reversed, and the matter is
remanded for the payment of benefits.
March of 2015, plaintiff filed an application for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the
Social Security Act (“the Act”), alleging
disability beginning on January 27, 2015. (Transcript
(“Tr.”) at 20, 216-19.) Plaintiff's alleged
impairments included encephalitis, anxiety, memory
impairment, seizure disorder, and traumatic brain injury.
(Id. at 233.) Plaintiff's application was denied
initially, (id. at 146-50), and upon
reconsideration. (Id. at 153-57.)
requested an administrative hearing and a hearing was held
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on May
16, 2017. (Id. at 37-63.) Plaintiff was represented
by an attorney and testified at the administrative hearing.
(Id. at 37-39.) In a decision issued on July 28,
2017, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled.
(Id. at 31.) The ALJ entered the following findings:
1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of
the Social Security Act on June 30, 2016.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful
activity during the period from his alleged onset date of
January 27, 2015 through his date last insured of June 30,
2016 (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.). (Exhibits B3D; B4D)
3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the
following severe impairments: seizure disorder; history of
herpes encephalitis and associated traumatic brain injury;
degenerative disc disease of the cervical and thoracic spine;
gout; depressive disorder; anxiety disorder; history of
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). (20 CFR
4. Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have
an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR
404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find
that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the
residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined
in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) with the following limitations: The
claimant can occasionally lift and/or carry 20 pounds
occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. He can stand and/or
walk for six hours of an 8-hour workday and sit for six hours
of an 8-hour workday, with normal breaks. He cannot climb
ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. The claimant should avoid
concentrated exposure to hazards. The claimant can perform
simple, routine tasks. He can tolerate limited interaction
with others and limited public contact.
6. Through the date last insured, the claimant was unable to
perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant was born [in] 1968 and was 47 years old,
which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the
date last insured (20 CFR 404.1563).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is
able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because using the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or
not the claimant has transferable job skills (See
SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Through the dated (sic) last insured, considering the
claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual
functional capacity, there were jobs that existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant
could have performed (20 CFR 404.1569 and 404.1569(a)).
11. The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in
the Social Security Act, at any time from January 27, 2015,
the alleged onset date, through June 30, 2016, the date last
insured (20 CFR 404.1520(g)).
(Id. at 22-31.)
February 26, 2018, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's
request for review of the ALJ's July 28, 2017 decision.
(Id. at 2-4.) Plaintiff sought judicial review
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by filing the complaint
in this action on May 1, 2018. (ECF. No. 1.)
district court reviews the Commissioner's final decision
for substantial evidence, and the Commissioner's decision
will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial
evidence or is based on legal error.” Hill v.
Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1158-59 (9th Cir. 2012).
Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. Osenbrock v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1157, 1162
(9th Cir. 2001); Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978,
980 (9th Cir. 1997).
reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole
and may not affirm simply by isolating a ‘specific
quantum of supporting evidence.'” Robbins v.
Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)
(quoting Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th
Cir. 1989)). If, however, “the record considered as a
whole can reasonably support either affirming or reversing
the Commissioner's decision, we must affirm.”
McCartey v. Massanari, 298 F.3d 1072, 1075 (9th Cir.
five-step evaluation process is used to determine whether a
claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see also
Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). The
five-step process has been summarized as follows:
Step one: Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful
activity? If so, the claimant is found not disabled. If not,
proceed to step two.
Step two: Does the claimant have a “severe”
impairment? If so, proceed to step three. If not, then a
finding of not disabled is appropriate.
Step three: Does the claimant's impairment or combination
of impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in 20
C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1? If so, the claimant is
automatically determined disabled. If not, proceed to step
Step four: Is the claimant capable of performing his past
work? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, proceed to
Step five: Does the claimant have the residual functional
capacity to perform any other work? If so, the claimant is
not disabled. If not, the claimant is disabled.
Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir.
claimant bears the burden of proof in the first four steps of
the sequential evaluation process. Bowen v. Yuckert,
482 U.S. 137, 146 n. 5 (1987). The Commissioner bears the
burden if the sequential evaluation process proceeds to step
five. Id.; Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094,
1098 (9th Cir. 1999).